Senior council figures have questioned whether Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to end the use of asylum hotels is deliverable.
The MJ understands recent ‘reasonable worst-case scenarios’ produced by Whitehall officials show they expect more asylum seekers to make Channel crossings this year compared with 2022, when a record 45,755 people arrived in so-called small boats.
Currently, there is a backlog of 110,000 asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their application after six months.
But Whitehall officials estimate that could increase to 140,000 by the end of this year and 154,000 in 2024.
Consequently, local government experts have suggested hotel use will need to continue.
Until recently, 51,000 asylum seekers were still housed in hotels, at a cost of £6.8m per day, despite ministers’ moves to end the practice – including a requirement that asylum seekers accept their first offer of permanent accommodation.
Last autumn, immigration minister Robert Jenrick claimed using ‘unsuitable’ hotels at an ‘unacceptable’ cost must end as it fuelled ‘asylum-shopping’ economic migrants.
In January, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Parliament ‘it’s so important that we end the use of hotels for some asylum seekers’.
But executive director of East Midlands Councils, Stuart Young, said: ‘If the question is: is it going to get worse?
'Then, yeah, I think it is.
‘When you look at the numbers, it’s a sharp intake of breath.
'We’re at the time of peak arrivals.
'When you start to look at the pressures, it does seem very daunting.
‘The pledge to end the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is ambitious.
'Many people are questioning whether that pledge is deliverable.’
The Home Office insists its Full Dispersal asylum policy – under which many UK regions will house more asylum applicants – is ‘well underway’.
But several council chief executives said there remains a lack of clarity about regional targets.
One council chief also warned the Home Office had made it clear ministers would disregard Full Dispersal plans if officials source accommodation separately.
Mr Young added: ‘The model we’ve spent the whole time agreeing is going to be put under pressure.
'If the regional plans are disregarded, it would certainly undermine the approach.
‘The risk is that we have direct procurement outside the model.
'I don’t think it will be popular.
‘The risk is that it will affect some councils more than others, which defeats the point of the initial Full Dispersal policy.’
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – we remain committed to making every effort to reduce hotel use and limit the burden on the taxpayer and local communities.
‘While hotels do not provide a long-term solution they do offer adequate space, secure and clean accommodation.
'We continue to engage with local authorities as early as possible.’